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Presidential Aspirations

Denison invites visitors to tour Eisenhower’s birthplace

Dwight D. Eisenhower casts a long presidential shadow over the North Texas town of Denison, but he’s not the only famous former resident. For a contrast of historic characters with local ties, consider that gunfighter and gambler John Henry “Doc” Holliday once practiced dentistry here.

Denison’s Eisenhower monument, at 16 feet tall, offers the first and most visible clue from Interstate 75 that Denison relishes its role as birthplace to the 34th president.

Denison also is known as Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s childhood home. The airline pilot achieved international fame in January 2009 when he successfully landed the disabled Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, saving all 155 people on board.

Even though Eisenhower’s connection to Denison is tenuous because his family moved back to Abilene, Kansas, when the future president was only a year old, the family’s history is on display in a white two-story house where he was born in 1890.

The house joins several historic buildings, including a general store at 609 S. Lamar Ave., in the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site. Guided tours of the home, which features period furniture, relate the story of the Eisenhower family’s stay in Denison.

The historic park’s perennial plant gardens attract monarch butterflies in the area as they follow their seasonal migration. A bronze of Eisenhower is surrounded by benches, convenient for a moment of reflection.

For a more vigorous experience, explore Eisenhower State Park’s 420 acres, where wooded areas invite hiking or camping and the nearby lake allows access for boaters.

A 15-minute drive south and east from the state park delivers you to Grayson County Frontier Village, where more than a dozen buildings dating to the 19th century were relocated to the property by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to create a historic town on a 17-acre park.

The village includes a log cabin, a jail and a school. Just outside the school’s door is a bell affixed to a pole with a rope attached to ring the children in for lessons. Nearby Loy Lake is open for fishing, kayaking and picnicking.

Back in Denison, you’ll find a green and yellow Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad train parked on tracks behind the brick Katy Depot on Main Street, once the center of a regional transportation hub. The Red River Railroad Museum, on the back side of the Katy Depot, preserves pieces of history from when the building reigned as a Union Passenger Depot (i.e., a train station used by more than one railroad company or line).

The MKT Railroad established the railhead in Denison in 1872, and the town grew up around the station. In 1901, Denison established an interurban railway that ran from Denison to Sherman. The town itself is named for MKT Vice President George Denison.

The depot continued as a bustling business until the late 1980s, when a merger shuttered the station for good. The building, with landscaped grounds punctuated by historical markers, now serves as an events center.

“Doc” Holliday opened a dentist’s office in downtown Denison after leaving Dallas under a cloud, but the exact location is neither known nor marked—befitting, in some ways, his status as an Old West legend.

Dawn Cobb is the PR communications specialist at CoServ, the electric co-op in Corinth.